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Authentic Mexican Textiles (2018)

Three handwoven textiles, two of which were created in collaboration with weaver Juana Cruz; 1.5’x1′, 1.5’x2′, 2’x4′

During the summer of 2018 I conducted a self-directed project that took place in two distinct locations: Oaxaca, Mexico and El Centro, California. Over the course of seven weeks, I unpacked what it meant to be both an “insider” and “outsider” as a Mexican-American in each of these locations by learning, and then teaching, an “authentic” Mexican skill (backstrap weaving).

For the three weeks I was in Oaxaca, I participated in the Obracadobra Artist Residency hosted by Casa Colonial—a bed and breakfast—as a way to conceptually frame myself in Oaxaca as an “artist,” “tourist,” and “outsider.” I structured my time at Obracadobra learning how to backstrap weave with an instructor, Juana Cruz. A pre-Columbian form of weaving, the backstrap loom is constructed from a series of loose rods connected to each other and an anchor point (e.g. a wall or tree) via yarn, and to the weaver via a backstrap. Although not entirely unique to Mexico, I chose to study this craft because the spectacle of backstrap weaving has attracted countless tourists over the years to Oaxaca City due to its reputation as traditional and authentically Mexican.

From Oaxaca, I traveled to El Centro, California where I lived with my father’s side of my family. This region ecompasses California’s Imperial Valley and Baja Mexico’s capital city Mexicali. It is a hybridized space whose delineation is not as clean as the border designation would imply; instead, this area exists as a liminal third space produced by the symbiotic exchange of people and culture via a porous border.

Unlike my time in Oaxaca City, this experience was framed by familiarity. In the context of El Centro, my roles shifted to “granddaughter,” “niece,” “cousin,” and “apprentice”. I wanted to unpack what it meant for me to be an “insider” (and in many ways still an “outsider”) in this space. While in El Centro, I intended to participate in a skill exchange with my grandmother: I would teach her about backstrap weaving and she would teach me a skill she learned upon her arrival to the United States. In other words, I would teach her something “authentically Mexican” and she would teach me something “authentically American.”

As soon as I arrived, I built my backstrap loom and prepared it…and failed…and prepared it again…and failed again… I quickly realized my flawed thinking: I had assumed that after only three weeks of instruction I would be able to both continue weaving on my own and teach someone the craft. It was a humbling realization to say the least…As I continued failing, there would be days where I would surrender to defeat and completely avoid attempting again. And on those days, my grandmother would walk by and say “y dónde está tu tejido?” (where is your weaving?) “vas a tejir?” (are you going to weave?). These moments reminded me that I was still “teaching” the craft (both the hardships and the process of failing) and that I was also still learning a “skill” that my grandmother had learned upon her arrival to the US: perseverance.

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